Stapelias – Stapelia variegata

The group of succulents known as Stapelias originate in southern and southwest Africa. They belong to the milkweed family, Asclepiadaceae.

Stapelias are very decorative plants. Each thick, succulent stem has four ribs with toothed edges. The stems branch out at the base and form dense clumps; the spreading habit of these plants make them suitable for growing in wide, shallow containers.

The star-shaped flowers are most unusual and attractive, and in some varieties are sweetly scented. However, the flowers of Stapelia variegata have an unpleasant, although not overpowering, odour. The odour is similar to that of rotting meat, and attracts the blowflies which pollinate the flowers.

It is this characteristic that has given all varieties the common name of Carrion Plant; their other common name, Starfish Flower, obviously comes from the shape of the flowers.Stapelias - Stapelia variegata

The varieties grown as house plants can vary in height from 10-23cm (4– 9in), with large flowers that can be 8-38cm (3-14in) in diameter. All varieties grow quickly in the summer; there is no growth in winter.

The most commonly grown variety is Stapelia variegata. It grows to a height of 10cm (4in) and is easy to bring into bloom. The flowers, which are pale yellow and patterned with brownish-purple markings, are about 8cm (3in) across. They appear in August.

Another popular variety, and the easiest to grow, is S. hirsuta. Both the stems and the flower petals are covered with soft hairs. The flowers are yellow with brown markings, and the hairs reddish-brown.

S. gigantea has the largest flowers of all varieties —they can be 36cm (14in) in diameter. The velvety stems are 15– 20cm (6-8in) in height.

Through The Year

Stapelias are fairly easy to grow and will not suffer if you neglect them a little.


During these months your plant will rest. It will tolerate normal temperatures, but if you put it in a cool place make certain that the temperature does not fall below 10°C (50°F). Give it bright light and dry air. Keep the compost dry, although if the plant is kept in a warm room, you may have to water it a little to pre- vent the stems from shrivelling.


Repot your plant in spring if it has outgrown its pot. Water moderately, allowing the compost to dry out a little in between.


You can take cuttings from June to August. Using a sharp knife, cut off healthy stems. Place on a sheet of paper and allow to dry for about 4 days before planting cuttings in individual pots of commercial cactus compost.

Pests And Diseases

Black sections on the stems are stem rot, caused by overwatering. Treatment: There is no cure for stem rot, but if rot appears only at the base of some side-shoots, you can save the plant by removing the affected parts.

Shrivelled, flabby stems can be a sign of underwatering.

Treatment: Plunge the pot in a container of water until the compost is saturated, then allow excess water to drain away. Water more frequently in future.

Fine webbing on the stems is a sign of red spider mite.

Treatment: Wipe the stems with a wet cotton bud to remove the mites. If they persist, use a suitable insecticide,


This is a fairly easy-going plant so long as it is kept dry in winter.

  • Potting: Repot in spring as necessary, using a shallow pot. A commercial cactus mixture plus a little added leaf mould is ideal. Put a layer of broken crocks in the bottom to improve drainage,
  • Water moderately in the summer, allowing the compost to dry out between applications. Do not water during the winter.
  • Feeding: Feed once or twice during the summer with a dilute solution of a standard liquid fertilizer.


  • Light: It needs as much light as possible, but protect from direct sun during summer.
  • Temperature: It will tolerate normal temperatures in summer and can be put outdoors until early autumn. In winter keep at a minimum temperature of 10°C (50°F).

Buying Tips

  • Stapelias are available all year round from good garden centres or specialist nurseries. If you want a plant that is in flower, buy in summer.
  • Choose a plant with firm, succulent stems and good growth.
  • As long as you take care not to overwater your plant, your Stapelia should live for many years.

Large, unusual flowers are a striking feature of Stapelia, but even when it is not in flower this succulent makes a decorative indoor plant that is quite easy to care for.

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